2010 Kawasaki Tour d’ Idyllwild

September 9, 2010
Ken Hutchison
Ken Hutchison
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The ulcers keep piling on for the warden of the MotoUSA asylum. With the inmates running rampant around the globe, Hutch has opted to get in on the madness more these days than in years past and is back in the saddle again.

2010 Idyllwild Tour with Kawasaki
The 2010 Tour d’ Idyllwild took us from Irvine to the San Jacinto Mountains where our destination awaited us.

Springtime in Southern California is prime riding season. The hills are still green, the trees and flowers are alive and vibrant but the best part is that the roads are clear and clean. There are plenty of places to ride out west and some hidden gems tucked away. One of them is the town of Idyllwild. Known predominantly as a tourist destination popular for its Annual Jazz in the Pines festival and other artistic endeavours, Idyllwild is surrounded by some of the most photogenic vistas in the entire state. This town of 5,000 is also situated along one of the best stretches of highway you will ever turn a wheel on. Add into the mix plenty of off-road riding opportunities in the surrounding San Jacinto Mountains and what you have is a destination that really is worth the ride. Now, we understand that not everyone has both street and dirt bikes at their disposal but the folks from Kawasaki do and how could we turn down the chance to spend a couple days of riding to and around the alpine village.

The annual Tour d’ Idyllwild, as its affectionately referred to, was an opportunity for us to get reacquainted with the 650-series of Kawasaki street bikes and then spend some time getting dirty with our old friends the KLR650 and KLX250S. It was a lot of hard work, gruelling hours in the saddle, endless photo shoots mixed in with a little fog and rain at one point… Do you feel our pain? By the time it was finished, the fun-filled 48-hour tour had the entire group wishing for more time to spend soaking in all this place has to offer.

2010 Idyllwild Tour with Kawasaki
The 2010 Kawasaki ER6n is fun and comfortable. That’s a great combination when navigating twisty canyon roads.

Our steeds of choice included the ER6n, Ninja 650R and the multi-purpose Versys. From Kawasaki headquarters in Irvine we set out on Interstate 5 where we hooked in with Highway 74, the infamous Ortega Highway, heading east. My first stint was aboard the ER6n. I had not spent time on that particular model, so it was nice get a feel for Team Green’s half-pint hooligan. The basic chassis of the 650-series bikes is the same with different suspension, handlebars, footpegs, seat and bodywork creating the unique character of each bike. The ER6n with its streetfighter style, upright riding position and torquey little Twin fit me well and made the early highway jaunt a blast. In the twisty stuff its capable chassis can hold its own as Ortega wound up, down, around and through the mountains of the Cleveland National Forest. When we arrived at Lake Elsinore we had been riding for a couple hours and the ER6n proved as capable a commuting machine as it is a backroad blaster.

2010 Idyllwild Tour with Kawasaki
The Kawasaki 650 Ninja looks good in green.

I switched to the Ninja 650R for the next leg of the journey through Hemet. The Ninja 650 is one of the better entry-level sportbikes available on the market today. Like the other Twins from this trio the Ninja is fun and easy to ride. The suspension is not state of the art but for new riders or someone who isn’t trying to set lap records this motorcycle will do just fine. I like to push a sportbike and the chassis is well balanced and offers a very composed ride. Like the other 650 siblings, the brakes work well and since it is not a repli-racer, it actually is quite comfortable for a sportbike. All this is good news as we make our way through the steep canyon roads winding through the Coachella Valley leading up past Mountain Center towards Idyllwild. The pavement was as smooth as a baby’s butt and the scenery along the way as epic as we had heard. Towering mountains, deep canyons and hillsides filled with coniferous trees. What more could you want from a weekend than this?

We were deep into the San Bernardino National Forest area and the mountains here consist of some of the gnarliest terrain in the region. That means the roads are full of switchbacks, long corners, blind turns and there’s always a cliff on one side and a steep bank on the other. It can be dangerous here so make sure to ride within your limits and leave some margin for error. The other folks on this road feel the same way we do. It’s so twisty even soccer moms can start to feel their inner-rally car driver urging her to brake later and carry more speed into these turns. It’s like a roller coaster and we are all guilty of wanting to feel those G-forces pulling at us. Unfortunately, not everyone has rally racer skills so there’s lots of corner cutting – so do yourself a favour and fudge towards the middle of the lane, not the center of the road. Anyway, I digress. These roads are simply sick and the 650 Ninja was right at home carving them up. If Kawasaki had hoped to rekindle latent feelings of endearment for its mid-sized Ninja, it was working.

2010 Idyllwild Tour with Kawasaki
With the village of Idyllwild in the brackground, we knew we were getting close to the end of our ride on the first day.

After a few hours raising a raucous on the backroads I swapped to the third and final of the 650 Twins. The Versys is Kawasaki’s budget adventure-touring bike with rider comfort and long travel suspension at the heart of this motorcycle. Anyone who has logged a lot of miles on an adventure bike can attest to the allure of the long suspension and comfortable riding position. It sounds redundant but the Versys is the most relaxed riding stance of the bunch – even though they are all easy on the rider.

We didn’t get a chance to tackle dirt roads on the Versys this time around but it sure was a nice, plush ride on Highways 74 and 243 between Hemet and Idyllwild. Toss some saddlebags and handguards on this motorcycle and you could go places. As it was we encountered some dirty backroads with frozen snow still skirting the edges and the dreaded pumice used to provide traction for the cars and trucks that frequent this region year round. As the town drew closer we got a glimpse of Lily Rock, a distinctive granite monolith that towers on the ridge outside Idyllwild. It’s a popular climbing rock and a unique landmark of the area.

Our day of riding on the street ended at the serene confines of the Quiet Creek Inn where we bunked in cozy cabins along Quiet Creek (hence the name of the Inn). After a delicious steak dinner and a few rounds of whiskey at Gastrognome we were off to rest our backsides because day two was only a few hours away and the plan was to head out on a dual-sport off-road adventure, with the forecast showing a high chance of precipitation.

2010 Idyllwild Tour with Kawasaki
You could hear the rain dripping off the trees at Quiet Creek on the morning of our dual sport ride. Since Hutch is from Oregon, he never let a little precipitation come between him and the dirt.

The rain pouring down later that night awoke me from a deep sleep and verified what we already expected. Tomorrow was going to be both wet and wild. The rain had turned into a heavy mist by morning so after a hearty French toast breakfast at the Red Kettle Diner we were off and riding towards the hills for some off-road fun. Our crew of six were divided between the big boy KLR650 and the pint-sized KLX250S. I chose the 250 as I was nursing a damaged knee and didn’t want to exacerbate the problem by dabbing a foot on the heavyweight KLR in the dirt. We made our way out of town surrounded by a politically-correct purr of our thumpers with their EPA-friendly exhaust note barely discernable over the hum of our knobby tires heading down Highway 243 toward Mountain center. The starting point was an obscure side road called Old Control Road. Located 12 miles away and off of the 74, thousands of people pass by it every week without realizing it’s there. I know I missed it on the way up. From there we followed the dirt roads as they wound back and forth through steep, narrow canyons. The wet decomposed granite was a little slick but we all agreed that it was better than dust.

2010 Idyllwild Tour with Kawasaki
While the 2010 Kawasaki KLX250S is a dual sport at heart, this little motorcycle is an absolute blast to ride off-road.

It always surprises me how much fun you can have on the little KLX. Loyal readers may recall the epic adventure in Death Valley during the KLX250S press intro a few years back, the Kauai Dual Sport Ride or our Legends of Baja ride where we rode two of them along with a variety of other dual sports. These bikes will go anywhere so long as you don’t try to make it up the widow maker hill climb.

Our own Dr. Frazier has ridden his KLR650 across every square mile of the globe at one point or another and most recently switched to the KLX so he could get in and out of the tighter more technical locales. If the testament he gives by simply choosing these bikes isn’t enough to convince you then maybe I can do it now. We had a half dozen journalists from various magazines, plus a photographer who can ride the wheels of any dirt bike and we went anywhere we pleased. It was fun getting there as we railed through the tight and twisty Old Control Road as it wound its way through the San Bernardino National Forest to the west of Idyllwild. We did some flat tracking, bumping and scraping, jumping and took a few diggers along the way, but every bike made it back in one piece. Every rider had a big-cheesy grin on their faces when we grouped up for photos or a water break too.

2010 Idyllwild Tour with Kawasaki
The Old Control Road was mostly decomposed granite so it was a real blessing there was rain.

After hours of playing off-road we eventually had to make our way back to the pavement for a few miles before sneaking up on the backside of the town past the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts (ISOMATA). Back in the day, this area was popular for the more artistic among us. Often referred to as hippies, this area was known for its ability to inspire folks to be high on life if nothing else. Musicians, artisans and craftsman alike staked their claims here and over the years the Academy has become a well known destination for high school students aspiring to make theatre a part of their lives. No more than 300 students earn the right to join it and we couldn’t imagine a much better location to let your hair down and find the meaning of life than this place. But we were not there to take in an amateur jazz jam session, we were there to ride. So we blasted past the long-hairs while hucking wheelies and chanting Ozzy lyrics while making the devil sign with our left hands! Actually, that’s not true. We idled past in a respectful manner and I wondered if this was the type of place that inspired my daughter’s favourite new Disney program, Camp Rock? Again, I digress…

One of the high points of riding the KLX250S is that the bike is so light and nimble. Even with dual-sport tires the bike cries to be ridden like a supermoto on the canyon roads. It is especially fun on the hard pack dirt but just as entertaining on the pavement. Traction is great and the bike is so light that it can be railed like no one’s business. On the way back

2010 Idyllwild Tour with Kawasaki
When it’s all said and done, nothing beats riding off road. That’s why dual sports are so much fun: You can ride them anywhere.

from the woods we hit a few paved stretches to blow off some of the mud stuck in those knobbies. Sure, the KLR riders had the motor to get by all of us on the 250s but we could reel them in when the corners tightened up. It may sound like all we did was stare at each other’s taillights all weekend but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Riding around Idyllwild you will get to soak in some of the greatest scenic locations in Southern California. The mountains are tall and steep and the surrounding forests are lush. This region is always threatened by the fear of wildfires but somehow it perseveres. Unlike the woods of the Northwest, this region has some scruffy pines and a high desert feel to it. It is a nice change of pace from the traffic-filled Ortega Highway ride for So Cal street bike riders and a welcome relief from the wide open spaces of Glamis or Ocotillio for the off-roaders. Factor in some serene locations to relax at, and Idyllwild becomes more and more intriguing as a destination.

The town itself is small and charming. The surrounding neighborhoods are neatly concealed within the forest so it is deceiving that there are so many people actually living out here. Back in town the fare and accommodations are

2010 Idyllwild Tour with Kawasaki
Don’t forget the Kawasaki KLR650 is a great dual sport capable of going long distances on or off the beaten path.

excellent. Breakfast at the Red Kettle will always leave you stuffed to the gills. Dinner at Gastronome is a rustic fine dining experience that will surprise you. The steak and pasta are excellent and the bartender seems keen on pouring a stiff Jack & Coke whenever the opportunity arises. There are many other excellent places to eat at your disposal as well. On previous trips we had nice dining experiences at Mountain Restaurant and Café Aroma.

Depending on where you stay, pretty much everything is within reasonable walking distance when you are in town. Make sure to grab some curios and trinkets to bring home to the kids because you’ll want an excuse to go back someday. After all, this place has been called one of the most scenic places in California by more than a few people. And I bet they didn’t even come here on a motorcycle…

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